A cardiologist with an MBA has launched a telemedicine business starting with international retailer Walmart (NYSE: WMT) with the goal of providing affordable healthcare in areas underserved by providers.
Dr.Raj Shah, who runs a 37 year-old, 10-physician cardiology and internal medicine practice in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, is the founder of Telemed Ventures and CEO of Smart Care Doc. Having formed the company nearly three years ago, he opened its first telemedicine unit in Bensalem in suburban Philadelphia and another is scheduled to open in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania later this month.
Although suburban Philadelphia does not exactly fit the profile of an underserved area, Shah said he wanted to start with facilities nearby his office so he could more easily iron out any kinks with the business that might arise.
The unit includes a flat screen TV and a dentist-style chair and has a set of bluetooth-enabled medical devices administered by an on site nurse including a digital stethoscope, a handheld EKG device, a finger pulse reader and a digital thermometer. A light pen camera is used to look into ears, at the throat or skin lesions. All of the readings from these devices can be transmitted to the attending physician or entered into a computer and sent to the physician in real time. Nurses also provide immunizations, minor wound care, and other services.
Patients also get a personal health record referred to by the practice as a “patient passport.” It includes continuity of care records and documents, medical problems diagnosed from their encounters with Smart Care Doc physicians, prescribed medications, allergies and appointments. In the years before he started his telemedicine business, Shah had launched a patient passport business to help patients keep track of their records
Despite Shah’s presence at Walmart, his relationship with the big box retailer is only as a tenant, so he is not tied to a partnership agreement. But he hopes to expand the practice if enough people use the service to rural areas across the country where Walmarts are located. Walmart declined to comment.
“Every Walmart store has thousands of people coming to it every day,” said Shah. “My measure of success would be if 12-15 patients used the service each day.”
The company charges patients about $59 for checkups, low enough for people who don’t have insurance. In addition to primary care it plans to offer specialists in cardiology, gastrointestinal disorders, nephrology, dermatology and psychiatry.
So far the biggest use of telemedicine has been by the military and Veterans Affairs. Although the number of people who actually use telemedicine or would use it, were it offered to them remains to be seen, some telemedicine companies have added or have focused on specialties over concerns that there are not currently enough people using it for primary care.
Shah is currently looking for general practice physicians and specialists who would be interested in working for a telemedicine company, who can apply online.
To those who might point out it’s not the same as being in a physician’s office, Shah says with his business, physicians still have eye contact with their patients and have access to the same information that an in-person visit would generate.
The chairman of the company, Tom Pappas, is the former CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Pennsylvania. The company’s other board members include a colleague from his HeartCare Associates cardiology practice, faculty from Rutgers Business School and faculty and staff from Wharton Business School at University of Pennsylvania.
Although Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed legislation to expand telemedicine’s use for Medicaid patients, along with 36 other states that provide reimbursement for Medicaid patients, there are obstacles to its expansion. U.S. Sen Tom Udall (D-NM) is drafting legislation that would streamline licensing that was expected to be introduced in the Spring.
Ultimately, Shah sees scope for the service being extended to other parts of the world like South America and Africa.